Most kids (and some parents too) dream of visiting a Disney theme park. But stories of crowds, hot days and a constantly quacking Donald can be intimidating. Doesn’t have to be, say these knowledgeable parents who’ve done the Disney route.
Anita Patel, executive director, Mediascope Publicitas, took her older daughter to Walt Disney World in Florida when she was four. “It was a mistake to take her at that age. She got tired easily,” says Patel, who waited till younger daughter Aariya was five before visiting Hong Kong Disneyland. “That trip was much better. It’s a smaller park without long queues and Aariya met the minimum height requirements for all the rides,” she says. Despite the flak the Hong Kong park has been getting, parents of younger children consider it a boon. Binita Trivedi, mother of two and a regular at Disney parks, says Hong Kong Disneyland is more manageable and a great experience. “But that’s for children up to seven,” she says. Patel agrees—“It would be boring for an eight- or 10-year-old.”
Beena Menon, who represents the tourism board of Ireland, has been to Disneyland, California and Walt Disney World, Florida. She took her son Vikramaditya and daughter Nayantara to Disneyland when they were seven and four. Walt Disney World was only attempted five years later. “That park’s so much bigger and has more options for older kids,” says Menon.
Map it out
“We made a mistake not living in the Disney complex and planned only a day-trip there,” says Samarjeet Shimpi, vice-president, client servicing, Triton, and father of seven-year-old Mahek, who visited Disneyland Resort Paris last year. So they restricted themselves to activities that Mahek most wanted to do. Fantasyland, with its Sleeping Beauty castle, was in the plan, as was Cine Magique, where popular movies are brought to life.
Danish Jathanna, a consultant with Hutch, visited Hong Kong Disneyland when her children Ishbel and Aman were four and two. Jathanna says they spent a lot of their time in Fantasyland and watched shows like The Lion King, as it was age-appropriate. “They loved the Alice and Pooh rides in Fantasyland, but found Tomorrowland scary,” says Jathanna.
The secret to escape the queues that mar every attraction at Disney parks? Careful scheduling. Patel says her end-of-May trip to Hong Kong Disneyland was perfectly timed. “Schools in Hong Kong had not broken for vacation, so the park wasn’t crowded,” she says. Her daughter did over 20 rounds of Space Mountain, the stomach-churning roller coaster in the dark, Disneyland’s most popular, and normally most crowded, attraction.
Menon had a similar experience during her visit to the US parks. “May is exam time in the States, so the parks were empty and there were no lines,” she says.
Mealtimes were the least favourite part of Jathanna’s holiday. The Hong Kong park caters to Oriental tastes and her kids weren’t enthused. “They refused all food from the park,” Jathanna says. Even though meals at the Disneyland Hotel were terrific, the children were too distracted to eat, because cartoon characters went from table to table. “My son was petrified and hid under the table and my daughter was too excited to eat,” she laughs. Jathanna overcame this by making them eat a large breakfast of the things they liked at the hotel and skipping lunch. “We found a pastry shop in the park and would have a heavy evening tea of jellies and mousse, and then have a small dinner at the hotel,” she says. At the Paris and US parks, most folks had no problems, with plenty of pizzas, burgers and the like around.
One thing the brains behind Disney do better than constructing theme parks is marketing merchandise. You’ll suddenly wonder how you lived your life without a pair of Mickey ears. Parents of boys say rides were the only thing that interested them; shopping wasn’t on their radar. Trivedi’s kids banned her from the stores, lest she waste their ride time in shopping. But Lorraine Martin, head, group communications, Ogilvy and Mather, says she and her sons Adam and Jordan succumbed to portraits, popcorn tubs and T-shirts. “I even bought a Mickey Mouse spectacle case, which in retrospect was a rip-off,” laughs Martin.
Parents of young girls, be prepared for excesses. Shimpi spent more money during his one-day Disney trip, than the 10-day Paris holiday. “Everything to do with The Princess Diaries was bought—balloons, earrings, dresses, headbands and water bottles,” he says. And the star purchase: a pair of “tick-tock shoes”, with glass heels, fur and feathers.
Patel played her cards right. Her daughter Aariya and a friend had their hearts set on expensive princess outfits, but “I talked them out of it, struck a deal, and let them buy two blonde wigs instead”, Patel says.
Is it artificial? Are there princesses in pink tulle dresses everywhere? Do you wait 20 minutes for a two- minute ride? Yes, yes and yes. So, be prepared. “It’s really enjoyable if you get into the spirit,” says Menon. “I went to Walt Disney World with my kids and parents and everyone was entertained,” she says. Menon’s parents were fearless and enjoyed all the scary rides, even though one is a heart patient. Shimpi says his wife was a “scary boo”, but he went on every ride his daughter did. “My daughter and I became the same age,” he laughs.